Diving in SiPadan and its nearby island was really incredible! I am glad to have the opportunities to dive in Borneo - SiPadan Island, Mabul Island, Kapalai Island, Siamil and Seaventure dive sites. For those that thinking of going but still hesistating, please read further and check out below wildlife photos. I hope this article helps to explain the dive experience in those dive sites.
This dive site is in SiPadan Island, one of my favourite dive spots but it is rather challenging because it may possibly have the strongest current in that area. When we were getting closer to the school of barracuda, the current was so strong that we all were instructed by dive master to dive low - very low to the hard rocks & sand area and hold on to the rocks. At some points, we were hanging by the rock and almost swept away by the current. I would strongly recommend those divers with more experience or with Advance Water Certificate to dive in this spot, or else just make sure you are next to your dive master and make sure they are aware of your experience level.
Nudibranch (a.k.a. Sea Slug)
There were many nudibranch species in Borneo and I still haven't uploaded all the species to this post yet. One of the interesting species our dive masters called, Pikachu Nudibranch (Thecacera pacifica)! I will upload the photo once I found it, it really looks like a Pikachu! Another nidibranch that really caught my eyes and beautiful when it moved - Spanish Dancer Hexabranchus sanguineus (literally means "blood-colored six-gills"). It danced beautifully when it moved in the water, I will once again to upload it when I retrieved it.
Spotted moray (Gymnothorax moringa)
Moray eels are everywhere in these islands, I would be very careful and not get too close to the reef if that appears to be their cave. Sometimes, they swim out from their caves for a quick exercise for the day and swim back to safe guard their caves. I had one encounter during one of my night dive in Maldives, it was biting my fins while we were all stopped at one site trying to check out some some crabs or interesting stuff at night. I might have disturbed that little fella and it's cave might be on the lowest ground floor where my fins were.
Coral Crab/ Trapeziodea
Camoflage again?! Look into the corals carefully is the key to find those small little coral crabs! They didn't seem happy to be found but still posted for photos - at least that was what I perceived...
Fairy (Hairy) Crab/ Squat Lobster
This little fella was so tiny - perhaps the same size as my fingernail. It is called Lauriea siagiani, which is a species of squat lobster in the family Galatheidae, genus Lauriea. We actually didn't notice it since it was so tiny but thank to our dive master - he pointed out of this cutie and we were the few lucky ones had the opportunity to admire it and got really close.
Transparent Shrimp/ Pederson's Shrimp
The little transparent shrimp is just right in the middle of photo, it was very hard to detect it but it was a precious moment when we found it. This transparent shrimp is also known as Pederson's Shrimp (Ancylomenes pedersoni) or the Cleaner Shrimp. Size wise, even smaller than fingernails!
This beautiful and cool-looking fella is Orang-Utan Crab (Achaeus japonicus). We saw this handsome dude from its habitat - some sort of bubble corals Plerogyra sinuosa. Its' arms were long and hairy, pretty much just like a mini orang-utan in the water. It's like my fingernails' size approx 2cm.
It is getting harder and harder to find lobsters underwater in Borneo. Some dive spots were called Lobster cave and New lobster cave because the lobsters were soon gone as long as the fishermen found them. It was sad that we saw so many lobsters in the restaurants when we went to Kota Kinabalu city but not in the Borneo dive spots during those time. Well, I spotted this stunning blue lobster in its' cave and was going out for a swim.
Blue Puffer Fish
Puffer puffer fish ~ This puffer fish looked like didnt' sleep well with panda eyes! Just - Joking!
I love puffer fish and they were lovely if nobody pisses them off.
When you are diving underwater, do watch out of these camouflage beauty such as this Crocodilefish (Cymbacephalus Beauforti). It blended into the habitat environment with its colour, the body pattern which is like a mosaic. I was the only one in the group spotted it's existence so be observant when you are underwater and you will find something unexpected!
Finally comes to Clownfish which everyone calls it Nemo! Yes, their habitat is Sea Anemone and they are generally quite shy but actively going in and out of their habitat (being curious?) whenever I saw them.
Have you ever spotted frogfish underwater? They are one of the amazing camoflage experts, blened into their habitat and moved along with the habitat hence it is less likely to be spotted. They changed their colour based on the environment, it was not easy to spot them but I found quite a few. It is facinating to find the frogfishes' camoflage skill (the colour was so perfectly blended into the soft corals) and the ability to mimic a potential meals for its prey.
It wasn't too hard to spot Mantis Shrimps in the Borneo's dive sites, they are colourful and relatively easy to spot.
Black Ribbon Eel
The Ribbon Eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita) is a species of moray eel. It is said that the presumed juveniles are subadults are jet black with yellow dorsal fin, looks like it fits the appearance of this little one that I encountered.
Can you spot where the octopus from there photo above? Check out its eye in the coral reef and the suckers next to it. Once again, it is one of the camouflage and mimicry experts. I came so close to miss this huge octopus as the dive group just dive pass to another dive site but one of the eye was looking at me... huge and freaked me out for that few seconds! I was worried it might just swim out and then started the attack but forced myself to calm down and take some photos from a distance even if it was hiding inside the coral reef.
Okay, another camouflage and mimicry fella! Note that we are not advised to touch any marine environment and including corals or stones. In doing so, it is not only to protect the vulnerable marine ecosystems and wildlife species but also to protect the divers.
Only during urgent circumstances such as strong current like barracuda point when we were about to be swept away, we used stick to stick into the sand to hold our ground or use stick to make sure there was indeed stones (not corral) that we could hold on to.
Gloves are not permitted when you dive in SiPadan Island.
If you take a look at the photo above, it is not hard to find that the Stonefish looks so similar to the stone/ hard coral but it is hard to spot it when you are underwater. When a Stonefish feels disturbed or perceived being threatened, it may inject an amount of venom proportionally to the amount of pressure applied to it - dangerous and it could be fatal! Can you imagine if you are touching it unknowingly with your hand and your face is just next to it?
There are so many marine wildlife photos that I haven't retrieved to share with you but I shall leave it for now. Feel free to share your dive experience in the comment.
SiPadan Island has been constantly being referred as one of the top dive sites in the world according to many scuba diving magazines. It is definitely my top dive site by far from my dive experience. This amazing SiPadan Island is located at the north-eastern corner of Borneo, Sabah - Malaysia.
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Dive Season: All year round! Perhaps better condition from April - Dec before the rainy season (Dec-Mar). Peak season generally during holidays such as Christmas, Chinese New Year, school holiday etc.
Water temperature: Approx 26 - 30 degree
To protect the environment, the government only issues 120 permits daily (Inclusive of divers and snorkelers) to the dive resorts. So if you are thinking of traveling to Si Padan Island, make sure you:
- Book with a reputable resort (better review of the dive guides/ more permits)
- Avoid visiting during peak season (Your chances will go up with less travelers)
- Extend your trip (The longer you stay, the more chances to get the permit)
Once you have the permit to SiPadan Island, you are required to register your name and nationality at the jetty. For those who go snorkeling, it would be a fantastic experience too. I snorkeled once with clear visibility of white/grey tips sharks, scorpion fish etc from the top while sea turtles was surfacing to take a breathe of the air next to me.
Based on the Government announcement on 10 Feb 2013, Only Advance Open Water Divers/ Open Water Divers with minimum of 20 log dives are allowed to dive in SiPadan Island.
Certain dive spots may have strong current such as Barracuda Poitns Dive Site when school of barracuda approaches the strong current (I had to hold on the rock and stay very low or I would get swept away) & Hanging Gardens Dive Site where drift diving is likely. I guess without more than 20 log dives or the Advance Divers Licence, novice divers will struggle at those sites.
How do you get there
Personally, I have tried three ways:
1. Book with dive agents from your countries
They will arrange air tickets, land transportation such as bus transfer & boats, accommodation, dive packages & rentals etc. In doing so, it is very convenient to let them handle all the nitty-gritty for your trip. Since the dive agent makes commissions from the dive resort, they sometimes even get a free trip going with you.
2. Book with local agents from Kota Kinabalu
There are many agents station in the city, Kota Kinabalu and you can book through them. Their websites provide necessary details, you can get them to book everything if you feel more comfortable to do so.
3. Book with the dive resort directly
Once you find your preferred resorts, email them directly to enquire for the dive package with accommodation and even half/full boards options. If you are uncomfortable with transferring money via credit cards or bank transfer, you can always check out their reviews from different websites such as tripadvisors for reference. I once booked through the resort, they arranged everything from the airport pick up, speed boat, accommodation stay, dive rental equipment and full board package. It was amazing and I totally enjoyed it.
Airport from your country --> Kota Kinabalu Airport
Kota Kinabalu --> Tawau Airport (Approx 50mins)
[Local land transfer]
Tawau Airport --> Semporna Jetty (Approx 1.5hrs)
[Local Speed boat]
Semporna Jetty --> Your resort
(depends on which resort you stay so could be 30 - 40mins to Mabul Island or Kapalai Island)
Woala! Bon Yoyage ~ Enjoy you stay!
Where to stay
There is no resort in SiPadan Island itself but Royal Malaysian Navy has an outpost on the island. Only day trips are allowed to visit SiPadan Island with permits but your resort may bring lunch for you and you can enjoy it in the island with limited facility.
You may consider accommodation nearby such as in Mabul Island, Kapalai Island or even in Semporna. There are many budget accommodation or water bangalow resorts but personally my preference is to stay closer to SiPadan Island just to shorten the boat ride daily, hence I stayed in Mabul and Kapalai Islands for these trips. In doing so, there are so many beautiful house reef/ dive sites to visit such as Kapalai house reef, Mabul house reef & Seaventure house reef.
Just to remind you that these accommodations are really for divers or those who want to snorkel, it is not a location for a white sand beach with all sort of water activities. So you may get disappointed if you are after places like Maldives, Bali or Phuket.
What can you expect from SiPadan Island Dive Sites
School of Barracuda/ jackfish, Bumphead Parrotfish (maybe 10 - 50 of them at times), Sea Turtles (Green Turtle & Hawksbill Turtle), White Tips Sharks, Grey Tips Sharks, Scorpion fish, a range of soft corals and hard corals variety.
If you are lucky, you can even spot Whalesharks, Hammerhead Sharks & Leopard Sharks.
Sharks and their breakkie
During one of my dive trips, we arrived very early the morning and - Early Bird Catches the Worms! We witnessed 10 - 20 white tips sharks circling around this site where it was full of corals and suddenly started attacking one specific area one after another. OH MY! They were forming a circle, feasting their meals one after another.
There were a few groups of divers when it happened, hence all divers seems to systematically form a larger circle above the sharks. It was all under our dive masters' instruction/ care so we were safe and excited to watch all these. For that crazy 5 - 10 minutes, we were all geared up to caputure the best moment of the action with all sort of gadgets for photos and videos. After the interesting sharks encounter, the whole dive trip was absolutely all about the sharks! We couldn't help but kept talking about it during lunch time on the island. Well, you have got to see it to know how it feels.
There are always concern of safety when one is considering this dive destination, Borneo where there were cases of kidnaps or pirates etc.
Since I love diving and am willing to take the chances to dive in this top dive sites in the world, I could only think of a way to minimize the chances. I chose to stay in resorts that with Marine Police Boat parking overnight. In doing so, the cost that I paid to stay in those resort really made me feel safe and slept soundly - it was worth it.
Well, the chances of car accidents are higher than marine incidents. Having said that, you can always give it a miss if you feel uncomfortable about it.
As for me, I will be back one day!
This indeed is one of my favourite sports!